Poor polling highlights Trump challenges in swing states

Poor polling highlights Trump challenges in swing states

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE's lack of advertising and organization in swing states is allowing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSamantha Power's Herculean task: Turning a screw with a rubber screwdriver Beau Biden Foundation to deny lobbyist donations, make major donors public Whoopi Goldberg wears 'my vice president' shirt day after inauguration MORE's campaign to control the election's messaging, say GOP strategists.  

They argue that the effect is trapping Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, in a tornado of bad headlines and making it more difficult for him to break out with a positive message.  


All the while, Clinton’s massive organization continues to trudge along relatively unimpeded, racking up significant leads across the election’s most important states.  

“Trump has been living on earned media; now he’s dying on earned media,” said John Feehery, a former House Republican leadership spokesman.  

“The lack of organization and the lack of campaign spending, especially on campaign ads, is very risky, and it’s especially risky when you have a bunch of bad earned media following you around. I think he’s decided he’s going to run the nontraditional campaign, but that might be too clever by half.” 

Swing-state polling released this week painted a gloomy picture for the GOP nominee and compounded questions about the efficacy of his hands-off strategy.  

Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, has posted double-digit leads in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado, and she has a 9-point lead in North Carolina. And while Florida and Ohio are closer, Clinton still remains in the driver’s seat.  

The slide at the polls has led to questions about whether Trump’s primary-election strategy of barnstorming across the country with little campaign structure outside of his massive rallies can carry him to the White House.

But Trump has thrown cold water on any suggestion of a strategic shift. 

“I certainly don’t think it’s appropriate to start changing all of a sudden when you’ve been winning,” Trump said on Fox Business on Tuesday. 

And Trump supporters such as Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James Barletta10 bellwether counties that could signal where the election is headed Bottom Line Ex-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs MORE, who is assisting in the GOP nominee’s efforts in his home state of Pennsylvania, cast aside worries as too early and unfounded.  

“They are polling likely voters, which, in a traditional election, would be accurate. But this is not a traditional electorate, so you can throw out the conventional wisdom,” Barletta said.  

“The energy I’m witnessing on the ground is nothing like I’ve seen before. When that movement mobilizes here, that will make the difference.” 

But while the Trump forces are hopeful that their candidate’s unique mixture of supporters will turn out in droves, the Clinton campaign is outgunning Trump both on the air and on the ground.  

The Clinton campaign spent six figures on advertising in Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Ohio last week, as well as $1.1 million each in Florida and Pennsylvania, according to an ad-buying source. That’s not to mention additional spending from the pro-Clinton Priorities USA super-PAC, as well as from Vote Vets and the super-PAC affiliated with Emily’s List. 

But since the Trump campaign isn’t spending at all, the only pro-Trump ad spending comes from the National Rifle Association and the pro-Trump Rebuilding America Now PAC. Both groups spent a total of $555,000 in Florida last week and $722,000 in Ohio, compared to $2.3 million and $1.8 million, respectively, for the pro-Clinton forces.  

The groups spent just $200,000 in Pennsylvania as Clinton’s lead skyrockets, and not a cent in Iowa, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire or Virginia.  

That’s a serious problem, strategists say, for a candidate who has relied so heavily on earned media.  

Trump has bounced from one bad headline to the next in the weeks since each party's national convention. 

He has criticized the Muslim family of a fallen American soldier, talked about “Second Amendment people” rising up if Clinton wins, initially decided not to not back House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE’s (R-Wis.) reelection effort, and called President Obama the “founder” of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

The stories have blanketed television news, though he has subsequently insisted he wasn’t suggesting someone assassinate Clinton and that he was being sarcastic about Obama. 

In cases like these, it's apparent that, without ad spending, Trump can't control his own message.   

“It’s giving Hillary this tremendous amount of runway to say whatever she wants and to push a message,” one former adviser to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhoopi Goldberg wears 'my vice president' shirt day after inauguration Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader MORE’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign told The Hill.   

“While she’s a flawed candidate, her team is good, and every day they are putting points on the board, and they are able to do it without a whole lot of pushback or response from the Trump campaign.” 

And the problems extend onto the ground as well, where Trump is being massively outspent as he outsources much of his ground game to the Republican National Committee (RNC).  

But the party can’t run the field operation alone, the former McCain adviser said. The campaign “has to have skin in the game.” While Trump has started to staff up crucial states, he has been vastly outspent and out-organized by Clinton. 

Trump paid just 78 staffers in total on his June financial report, as well as another 50 paid field consultants. 

By comparison, Clinton's campaign paid 672 staffers, consultants and pollsters, according to an analysis of the most recent financial reports by The Hill.  

While it's unclear how much Trump spent in July, with financial reports about a week away, those most recent reports found he spent $7.8 million in June compared to Clinton's $34.5 million. 

There are signs that Trump's campaign is looking to rectify the resource gap — campaign officials told Bloomberg on Friday that aides plan to open 24 offices across Florida to push back on Clinton's deeply rooted apparatus there. But he'll need to ramp up quickly and heavily, strategists say, to make up ground.  

While Barletta admitted that the “lights” aren’t on yet in his swing state of Pennsylvania, he’s not concerned because of the amount of enthusiasm he sees on the ground.  

“That’s the beautiful part about what’s happening with this election — Donald Trump is a movement,” he said.  

“Everyone’s been telling him what to do from day one, yet no one has done better than him. … The political consultants are missing this. They’ve been the last to get it for some time now.”  

But Trump’s victory in the primaries and zealous supporters haven’t convinced strategists and outside observers, who question why Trump continues to spend so little despite his recent massive uptick in fundraising.  

After raising just $5.6 million in May, his campaign directly raised $26.7 million in June and is expected to eclipse that number in direct donations for July.   

Doug Heye, a former RNC aide who doesn’t support Trump, told The Hill he was surprised to see no evidence during a visit to Iowa last week of either a ground game or an ad strategy.  

“Most of the people I talked to said they didn’t see a presence on the ground or a county coordinator. There hasn’t been anything building for the type of grassroots activities that you typically need to do to win,” he said.  

“More and more, as I talk to folks around the country, it becomes clear to me the biggest challenge Donald Trump faces isn’t his incendiary message or straying off message, it’s the fundamental lack of any campaign in swing states.”